Elana Konstant
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Career Coach for professionals in transition
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Recently, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the average person holds more than ten jobs before the age of 42. All that job changing likely means a lot of declined offers. Knowing how to gracefully turn down an offer and leverage it into other professional leads is a great skill to master. Hopefully, you have many more employment offers in your future to accept or decline.

When declining an offer, time is of the essence. Once you know you will not accept the offer, let the employer know as soon as you can so that they can continue with their hiring efforts. In terms of the actual method of notification, a phone call to the hiring manager for the position is best. In a phone conversation (or a voicemail after repeated efforts), you can convey your tone and actual feelings in a way an email or letter does not. 

Keep communication with the company professional to avoid burning any bridges. If you need some guidance on how to decline a job offer, look to these five principles:

1. Express gratitude.

The first thing you want to do when you decline the offer is thank the employer or hiring manager for the opportunity to interview and for the offer. Even if the role is not a good fit for you or the salary is not what you’d hoped for, it is important to be grateful for the fact that you stood out during the interview process and were ultimately chosen out of all of the candidates. 

Whether you are declining because you decided to stay with your current employer (who perhaps made you a counter offer) or are pursuing other avenues that might be more in line with your long-term career goals, you want to make the employer think that it was a difficult decision for you and one you arrived at after much deliberation. Being polite and courteous is always the right approach in a professional context.

2.  Communicate openly.

If you want to politely decline an employment opportunity, one thing you must do is reach out to everyone who was involved in the hiring process — not just whomever sent you the offer letter — including the recruiter and each person with whom you interviewed. While it might seem cumbersome, this generosity of time and spirit will have a long-term impact. 

Recognize how much energy and effort went into the entire hiring process and your ultimate selection, particularly if you met with numerous parties. Above all, the goal is for the hiring team to feel they made a good choice in picking you, despite the fact that you are not accepting the role. 

3. Maintain a relationship.

Even when you decide not to take the job, the employer can become a valuable part of your network. This connection can prove fruitful at a later date, whether or not that’s the next time you’re a job seeker. You never know what might happen in a long career (see opening line to this article). When you are in the midst of a job search applying for multiple jobs and receive multiple offers, it’s not unheard of to make the wrong decision. 

One of my career coaching clients actually went back to an employer she declined and ultimately received a second offer three years after the first, which she then immediately took. By staying in touch with her contacts there and maintaining a strong relationship, she was able to be honest about her regrets in not taking that position initially.

4. Bring the employer into your network.

Leaving on a mutually respectful note can be helpful in your general professional development as well. Perhaps you can refer other qualified candidates for the opening given your expertise in the field. Connect with the recruiter and your interviewers on LinkedIn with a personalized invitation and stay in touch by sending articles, referrals and other recommendations. 

Think of how you can still be of service to those contacts.  If you stay in the same field, having close connections at another company or a competitor is an advantage that you could and should use for your benefit as well as your current employer’s benefit.

5. Provide valuable insight.

When there is a specific reason for your decline, such as too low salary or too insignificant a title, the employer (or recruiter) may want to know that for their future recruiting. If you go through a lengthy negotiation process before ultimately deciding not to accept, some of this information might already be understood. 

Obviously, you do not want to be disrespectful in offering a reason that cannot be changed, i.e., you may want to leave out the hideous commute. But, if you can provide information that would help the employer land desirable candidates, then definitely offer up such information. Perhaps it would be worth letting them know why you took the offer you did, particularly if it related to benefits or responsibilities that can be altered.

The point is to have all parties walking away from this conversation feeling positive, despite the fact that you were negative on the offer.

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Elana Konstant is a career coach and consultant focusing on professional women in career transition. A former lawyer, she founded Konstant Change Coaching to empower women to create the career they want. Change is good. Elana will help you find out why. Her career advice has been featured on Glamour.com, Babble, Motherly, and other outlets. You can learn more by visiting her website, konstantchangecoaching.com

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